I say ‘mere’ when speaking of a verbal apostasy because I want to figure out if one can ‘merely say’ that they deny Christ while sill loving Him in their heart. What I mean is, if we are in a situation where we will be killed unless we deny Christ, is it ok for the Christian to say they deny Him while, in their heart, not denying Him.
If I took to looking in the Bible for examples of this, the most popular ones I could think of would be A) Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego, and B) Daniel and the lion’s den. In the case of A (Daniel 3), King Nebuchadnezzar II made a large (nine story high) gold statue of himself and ordered that when the instruments were played everyone was to bow down and worship the ‘god’. Of course, the three men didn’t, and in turn were thrown into a furnace so hot that it killed the soldiers bringing the men to the entrance. In the case of B (Daniel 6), Daniel prayed to the true God while the edict was made that ‘any man over the next thirty days may not pray to any god or man besides King Darius.’ He was thrown into a seemingly immanent death; a pit of lions.
So while these Biblical examples didn’t die (in the case of A and B) it should be noted that indeed they were willing to go to their deaths for their faith. As the men replied to Nebuchadnezzar ‘our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O King. But if not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up.’
Furthermore, almost every apostle of Jesus was also martyred for their faith in Christ, and, recent studies have shown that every five minutes a Christian is killed for their faith. That’s about 105,000 a year. And this is not counting civil wars, or wars between nations, but simply people being put to death because of their faith. The fact is, people at all times at all locations were and are willing to die for their faith. And why is that? Would they die for something they knew to be a lie? I wager no man dies for something he knows to be false.
There are, of course many verses to go along with my contention that we are never to deny Christ to save ourselves. In Matthew 10 Jesus talks of suffering. He says, in verse 28 ‘do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ He says that our fear ought to be of God, and not man. He goes on with an essential requirement for the Christian to not be ashamed of His name. In verse 32 Jesus says ‘so everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.’ This, to me at least, means once again that there is no case by which we are to deny Christ lest He deny us to His Father.
Suffering, to different degrees is a guarantee of the Christian walk. The Bible says multiple times we are to expect to suffer for Jesus name. Matthew 24 says ‘you shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.’ In 1 Peter 4 is says ‘if you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (…) Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.’
Paul, in 2 Corinthians talks about his suffering. He says ‘for we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.’ Paul recognized that in his suffering he found that he must rely on God more, and in turn this built his faith.
The task is not easy to follow Christ, indeed Jesus says ‘whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.' (Luke 9) Moreover, he says in Matthew 10 that whoever does not take up their cross is not worthy of Him. And there ought not to be much debate on what taking up one’s cross means; it is a high requirement! (See link for further thoughts.)
1 John 4 says ‘for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.’ In this we know that God is master over death, indeed He conquered it at the death of Christ. And this should give us great hope. Hope enough to know that in death we loosing nothing, and gain everything. ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ (Phil 1)
Romans 14 also promises us that ‘if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.’
In fact, many a time does the Bible talk about those who are ‘persecuted for righteousness sake’ (Matt 5) and their blessings and rewards. Further on in Matthew it says ‘blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’
In Romans 8 it talks about the co-heirs of Christ sharing in his glory, and that our ‘present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ In 2 Corinthians 4 it says that the troubles are momentary, and that they are ‘achieving for us an eternal glory’ that will outweigh all of the suffering here on Earth. It tells us to fix our ‘eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’
Thus, as Christians we know that all of our pain is working towards God’s glory, and that in knowing this we should ‘not loose heart’. In Revelation 2 it says ‘do not fear what you are about to suffer’, and 2 Timothy 2 furthers this by saying ‘if we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful-for he cannot deny himself.’ Our reward is the ‘crown of life’. (Rev 2) Our reward is living with Christ in his glory.
We cannot escape this conclusion of a required martyrdom (when necessary) by the guise of ‘mere words’. God will judge us according to what we have done. (Rev 20:13) More than that, God knows our motives, and according to Solomon (the wised man ever to live) ‘motives are weighed by the Lord.’ Paul also talks of motives on 1 Corinthians saying that God will 'bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.’
So while all of this, to me at least, is obvious and clearly defined throughout scripture time and time again I do not think definitively that ‘anyone who denies Christ will burn forever’. The reason I can’t say is A) I’m not God, therefore I cannot judge a man’s heart and B) I doubt God would sent every person to Hell given the various situations which one would find themselves in; being given the chance to deny Christ to save themselves. (Indeed the same thing can be said for the person who commits suicide as not all cases are the same. One must take into account the mental state of the person, and their life as a whole. Moreover, God will judge fairly in the end.)
The fact is, our actions, in the end, will show how we truly feel towards God, and if our words were hollow or not. I would not say definitively I would never ever deny Christ; for I cannot know until I am tested. But the odds are that someone like me (and someone in the West for that matter) will never be put in a situation where we will have to die for our faith. At this point, I stand by my belief that we are never to use ‘mere words’ to save ourselves. And I would hope that my faith is strong enough that were I to be in a situation do die for Christ I would.
Let it not be thought that I am telling the Christian to gain a ‘martyr complex’ and go searching of death for the sake of dying for their faith. The Bible is also specific in that we are to avoid persecution when possible, and as a last resort to be a martyr.